I had the great fortune of being raised by a loving family. They instilled in me certain values that shaped me into the person I am today. None of the adults in my family had much of a formal education though. My grandfather, for example, came to our country at the age of 10 with about a fifth grade education. He was a water boy on the railroad and later became a shoemaker.
My father never graduated from high school either. He fixed wrecked cars for a living and eventually owned his own shop–“Mazzola’s Body Shop.” It never had running water or central heat. During the winter, he burned coal in a pot-belly stove to warm the place up. I loved hanging out at his shop, and I learned a lot, too. Most people don’t know it, but I’ve painted cars, changed engines, installed transmissions, and I still service my own vehicles. In fact, I’m doing a brake job on my son’s car this weekend.
Oh. I forgot to mention why my dad never graduated from high school. He quit at the start of his senior year to go fight in World War II with his older brothers. You see, service to the nation was just one of the values stressed in our family. Since that was the case, it was an easy decision for me to enlist in the Air Force when I got older, even though it was very unpopular at the time.
Although I planned on doing my hitch and then moving on, I ended up spending more than 25 years in uniform. I did so because I loved being part of something meaningful, I loved working with honorable men and women, and I loved the fact that my organization stressed many of the same values I learned at home: Integrity, Service and Excellence.
Every year in November we celebrate Veterans Day. This year, encourage your students to reach out to veterans in your community. Besides having them thank the vets for their service, have them ask about the core values the vets lived by and how those values impacted their personal character. And, after Veterans Day, have the students share what they learned. I think you’ll find this can be a powerful character-building experience…and that’s what all good character educators look for!
Thanks for all you do to develop young men and women of good character for our world.